As always, five times a day, there's the amplified call to prayer. And now, in this season, there's the incessant refrain — sometimes pleasant, sometimes crackling — of Jingle Bells and others that are its cousins. (Starbucks in Mont Kiara surprised me this morning, playing customary western pop through the two hours I spent there, this day of Christmas Eve.)

At a "viewing" of yet another place last night, in my quest to find a quiet place to rent in KL, my wife and I paused in the end and took in a deep breath. "Let me be honest," I said magnanimously,. "This is the place." The three women before me smiled and laughed and said nice words. "No noise from highway," said one "Negotiator," flopping down on a sofa before me who has grown avuncular after all these viewings with them. "No sound from construction site," said the second agent, whose title is Senior Negotiator.

Just then, the āzān came floating in, travelling low to high to lower to even higher, startling us because we'd had left the front door open, and the holy call was coursing in unattenuated.

My wife started to say something, but the Negotiator cut in: "If any client say 'want place without prayer,' I tell him, 'don't waste your time,' lah." She nodded slowly and meaningfully as she said that.

The Senior Negotiator nodded in step with her, smiling as she did so. She was lithe in a brown one-piece dress. "It's prayer. Here in Malaysia, you don' want to hear prayer, you go to jungle, lah."

"Most people don' mind," the Negotiator said. "'It's only prayer,' they say."

They were Buddhist women both, defending Muslim custom in multiracial Malaysia.